June 05, 2017      

I had the opportunity to attend the 2017 Internet of Things World or IoT World event in Santa Clara, Calif., this past month. This was my first foray into the Internet of Things market, so I went in with an open mind. The event’s success in terms of the number of attendees reflects the level of interest in IoT.

On the first full day of the expo, the crowd was lined up out the door for registration, and several sessions were standing room only. According to the event producers, this was a record year, with more than 14,000 attendees. IoT World has grown by more than 20 times since its inception three years ago.

Business Takeaways:

  • The convergence of information technology and operations technology mandates, controls, and policies will have to evolve before there is wide-scale adoption of industrial IoT solutions.
  • The IoT market is ripe with startups with interesting ideas for new applications. Expect the market to grow and become crowded before consolidation occurs. The market should shake out over the next one to two years.
  • There are no generally accepted standards or several competitors for standards governing some core IoT technologies. This may complicate interoperability until the market evolves.

Enterprise concerns and connected cars

IoT World’s agenda was organized into three main tracks:

  1. Consumer IoT, including wearables, smart homes, and sports and entertainment
  2. Industrial and enterprise IoT, including manufacturing, smart cities, and healthcare
  3. IoT capabilities, including architecture, executive, Blockchain technologies, and data analytics and artificial intelligence

A common theme of many of the presentations was how to deal with the complexity, scale, and security challenges that IoT brings to the enterprise.

In addition, IoT World was co-located with the Connected & Autonomous Vehicles show, and if you’re a car guy like me, you went anticipating the latest automotive technology on the show floor.

IoT World 2017 featured a connected vending machine.

A connected vending machine was just one example of how IoT is going to enter our daily lives.

Alas, there was only one demo vehicle on the floor, a BMW I3 in the HP Enterprise booth. I guess I’ll have to attend the Autonomous Vehicles show in Detroit or the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to see actual vehicles.

The show floor had more 250 vendors between the IoT World and Connected Vehicles pavilions. The majority of exhibitors were offering IoT infrastructure and architecture-related products. The expo hall was a good place for IoT innovators to find component suppliers.

Startups proliferate at IoT World

The best part of the event, in my opinion, was Project Kairos, which attempted to connect startups with investors. “Startup City” featured small booths for more than 100 startups. It was a nonstop pitch fest, as exhibitors wooed prospective investors and customers.

In IoT World’s “Startup Academy,” venture capitalists, angel investors, and business coaches gave startups advice about how to pitch their solutions.

This year’s winner was Reality Analytics Inc., or Real AI, which builds tools to help engineers integrate sensors and sensor data using artificial intelligence. The company, which has offices in New York; Columbia, Md.; and Sunnyvale, Calif., said it plans to combine data from cameras, “lidar, sound, accelerometers, and vibration to sense the environment immediately surrounding the vehicle.”

Real AI’s tool would help “identify specific conditions,” including the road conditions and surrounding vehicles.

“One of the biggest applications we see today is in industrial equipment for condition monitoring and predictive maintenance,” said Stuart Feffer, Real AI co-founder and CEO. “Taking a vibration sensor and putting it on a pump, a mixer, a robotic assembly unit, and monitoring that piece of equipment for either conditions that require immediate operator intervention, or that are indicative of a maintenance problem.”

Reality AI recently raised $1.7 million in seed funding to grow the company.

Other upcoming IoT events:

IoT enables robot swarms

Two other young companies related to industrial automation also caught my eye at IoT World. The first was Swarm Technology, which is attempting to operationalize the idea of building a swarm or “hive” of robots that can share information without a central supervisory process.

Autonomous mobile robots or aerial drones are target applications for Swarm’s functionality. The startup demonstrated robots balancing on a board, but this concept still needs to mature a bit before it’s ready for any production use cases.

IoT World included startup pitches.

UWINLOC CEO Eric Cario pitches his company at the Start Up City stage.

Another vendor at the show was France-based UWINLOC. It has built an indoor navigation system for warehousing and logistics that is similar to GPS but uses wireless location ID tags. Although there are already a few players in the market for 3D asset location, they all use slightly different technology.

What sets UWINLOC apart is that it’s able to get accuracy of plus or minus 30 cm (about a foot) in a non-powered (i.e. battery-less) system that is more affordable than those of competitors.

There are more accurate solutions on the market, but their tags cost 10 to 20 times more than the non-powered UWINLOC tag. This technology could be useful for leading autonomous mobile robots to specific product stock-keeping unit (SKU) locations in the warehouse. It could also track items or boxes as robots move them through the warehouse.

More on IoT and Robotics:

Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things

Industry 4.0 is coming first to automakers, noted analysts and IoT World speakers.

“Industry 4.0 gives auto manufacturers the option to customize individual vehicles, and shorten the delivery time for these vehicles,” said RnRMarketResearch.com. “The implementation of technologies such as IoT, industrial robotics, and cyber security has made this sector to have the largest market share.”

The Industry 4.0 market is expected to reach $152.31 billion by 2022 at a compound annual growth rate of 14.72% between 2017 and 2022. IoT World provided a peek at many of the technologies that will make the factories of the future a reality.

I learned more about the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), predictive analytics on the manufacturing floor, and how IoT is shaping the future of warehousing and inventory control.

Several speakers commented on the huge chasm which currently exists between information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) practitioners.

IT people are concerned about the growing inventory of sensors and other smart devices “hopping” onto the same network with their IT servers. IT people and OT people don’t speak the same language at the moment, yet the growing wave of IoT use cases is forcing these two groups to come together.

One sage piece of advice is to not treat IoT as a project, but rather a new way of doing business. At the end of the day, connectivity and access to sensors are important, but it’s all about the data coming from the various devices. Any IIoT use case is going to include crunching the data and using it to make more precise business decisions.